Hanging in the School Nurse’s Office is a sign that poignantly reads, “Students must be healthy to be educated and educated to be healthy.” As students arrive to be treated for sniffles, a headache, an upset stomach, or just to visit, this is a powerful reminder of the vital role wellness plays in their daily lives at school.
At Saint Mary’s Hall, the mental, physical, and emotional health of all students is a critical component of the day. As stated by Head of School Len Miller, “Healthy students are more engaged in their studies, athletics, and art. When a student is connected and well, they are ready to more fully engage in their day. Health and wellness are critical components of our commitment to educating the whole child.”
Saint Mary’s Hall is dedicated to ensuring the health and wellness of all students, faculty, and staff, and to the School’s ever-strengthening Wellness Program and the support it provides.
How It Began
Since its inception in 2016, the program and personnel have grown significantly. Led by former Director of Wellness Susan Douglas, a Wellness Program Taskforce composed of 27 students, faculty, and staff met for a year and provided more than 40 recommendations to SMH leadership. The School’s wellness initiatives soon became a primary focus of SMH’s 2018 strategic plan, with the goal to Enhance the SMH Experience through student, faculty, and staff wellness. Now headed by Dr. Sandra Lopez-Morales, who was recently named Assistant Head of School for Student Experience, wellness is cross-divisionally built into students’ schedules and an essential part of elevating the student journey.
“The deep study our community undertook in 2016 was integral to developing the strategic plan,” said Dr. Lopez-Morales. “Enhancing the SMH experience is explicitly focused on wellness, and wellness is the most necessary piece to student wellbeing.”
Expanding the Team
Saint Mary’s Hall leadership has made significant strides to strengthen and expand health and wellness support at the School by adding personnel, restructuring the Wellness Team for vertical alignment across divisions, and adding student centered programming across campus.
Dr. Lopez-Morales' appointment to Assistant Head of School for Student Experience marks an important milestone in the history of the program. As a key administrator, her role ensures a deep focus in every area of the school when it comes to the wellbeing of students.
Part of this transition includes the alignment of our Student Counselors, the Health Services Team, and the Wellness Team. Beginning this year, our Lower, Middle, and Upper School Counselors will join the same team and work directly with Dr. Lopez-Morales. This important change ensures our counseling professionals have strong vertical alignment as they build age-appropriate lessons and conversations for our entire student body. Their support of student needs can now be coordinated across divisions.
The Wellness Team has grown. New members include Interim Chaplain Dr. Fredricc Brock and Upper School Counselor Deborah Saldana, with a new position, Coordinator of Student Well-being, held by Dr. Valerie Lohr. They join current School Health Service Coordinator Melissa Baumholtz, Lower School Counselor Susan Moore-Sickmann, Middle School Counselor Leslie Palmer, and Health and Wellness Teacher Amelia Teodosio.
Baumholtz, who is also part of the Health Services Team, along with School Nurse Eileen Petter and Athletic Trainer Phil Rogers, plays a pivotal role in not only healthcare for students, but in integrating healthcare and education.
Baumholtz shared, “Student’s health is directly related to their ability to learn. We can help to keep them healthy and in the classroom, and educate them about taking care of themselves.”
Enhancing the Program
Beyond expanding and restructuring the personnel, the School has also enhanced programming. The Lower School has implemented Responsive Classroom Learning, a student-centered, social and emotional learning approach to teaching and discipline. Students begin their day with a Morning Meeting, where teachers and students greet one another, share information about themselves, and engage in meaningful group activities that set the tone for a positive learning environment.
“The Lower School took a new look at how we are teaching life skills and a program that we could all embrace, and that was Responsive Classroom,” said Moore-Sickmann. “Part of that is interaction. We want students to not just talk to us, but to each other and connect.”
In the Middle School, there is a focus on the Wellness Wheel and how dimensions of health, including spiritual, emotional, intellectual, physical, social, environmental, financial, and occupational, fit into the structure of SMH’s wellness initiatives and the collaboration across divisions. Teodosio implements innovative methods of student engagement in her Middle School Health classes to include student-choice lessons that help them interact and connect.
“We want to help students understand that it’s not just about physical health. It’s not just about emotional health. It’s about relationships and community as well as managing your time, energy, and resources,” Palmer said.
The Upper School Counselor, the Coordinator of Student Well-being, the School Chaplain, and Dr. Lopez-Morales work together weekly to offer a rolling program of health and wellness classes and have been joined by guest faculty experts throughout the community. These activities address specific health and wellness topics such as mental health issues, mindfulness, healthy dating relationships, substance abuse prevention, and digital citizenship.
“We are experts in the subject matter, and they are experts in themselves,” said Lohr referring to students. “Our role here is to teach students to value themselves, keep their core values, and interact with others in a way that is helpful, accepting, and professional.”
The presence of a Chaplain on campus is another important aspect of wellness at SMH. Spirituality plays a major part in the wellbeing of students and the Chaplain helps to instill the importance of understanding and accepting those with diverse beliefs.
“A question I ask myself as Chaplain is how I can help them to live out their spirituality and understand the importance of respecting others whose spirituality may be different from theirs,” said Dr. Brock.
What’s the Future Hold
As the school year progresses, so will the positive efforts and effect of the Wellness Program. Future Wellness initiatives include a High Achieving Schools Survey to assess comprehensively all facets of student life, a well-being index to explore wellness program effectiveness, and the exploration of best practices by forming relationships with other schools across the nation.
Dr. Lopez-Morales said that the goal of the Wellness Team is to graduate students who can overcome obstacles, manage their distress, communicate effectively, share deep meaningful relationships, and practice self-awareness.
The SMH Wellness Program and Wellness Team help each student develop the mindset and skills needed to live a healthy life now and in the future. SMH is committed daily to improving and enhancing wellness for all students. To learn more, visit our Wellness webpage.